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 Post subject: Great Lakes Ecosmart - Okna -SoftLite Should I keep looking?
PostPosted: Fri Apr 03, 2015 12:13 pm 
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Regardless of where or how I search the internet... (other than the normal sales propaganda) I can find very little "current" information from a consumer perspective on the Great Lakes ecosmart window line.

I know Great Lakes windows is a brand offered by Plygem. I've learned the Ecosmart and the Great Lakes Uniframe series are basically one in the same. I understand the Uniframe / EcoSmart windows are Plygem's top offerings. My concern is most of the online discussions and consumer comments on ecosmart are older, in the 2010 - 2012 time frame. It gives the impression they are no longer being discussed or considered by homeowners.

Here's my dilemma. My existing wood windows are 35 years old. Much of the sills and trim molding have rotted away due to severe wood rot. The interior trim is cheap, finger jointed poorly stained pine. I want full replacement, i.e., "everything" removed all trim both inside and out... right down to the homes original rough opening. (see pic)

Image

I've had no less than six different companies, offering different products, give me estimates. (Soft-lite, Anderson Renewal, Pella, Vytex, Window World, Vanguard series and Great Lakes ecosmart.)

Good or bad, only the Great Lakes distributor specializes in total "full frame" replacement. All the other installers (regardless of product line) don't offer full frame and want to do "inserts" into the existing window jambs, replacing the inside trim and wrapping the exterior trim (i.e. aluminum & chalk).

The local Great Lakes distributor has several large jobs underway. I went to one of the job sites to observe an installation in progress. Was very impressed with the quality of their work. I trust the installer... but have yet to get a warm feeling on the ecosmart window line. (Not to mention reading some older (2009 -2010) complaints about Plygem windows)

FYI: All quotes for 20 double hungs (regardless of the install method) are coming in at the same price point $700 to $750 per window. Granted, there are other construction companies in town. Should I keep looking?


Last edited by EltonNoway on Wed Aug 12, 2015 7:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Great Lakes Ecosmart Windows - Should I keep looking?
PostPosted: Fri Apr 03, 2015 3:53 pm 

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I am NOT a fan of plygem but i have to say, The EcoSmart series looks pretty good. Your pricing seems very reasonable as well. I know the UniFrame is pretty solid.
I would also look at Vytex windows ( potomac or fortis series) and the new Okna 600 series also called the " EcoPro".


Last edited by masterext on Tue Mar 28, 2017 6:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Great Lakes Ecosmart Windows - Should I keep looking?
PostPosted: Mon Apr 06, 2015 5:40 pm 

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I'm not a fan of the Ecosmart. Not the worst window out there, but the quality of all of the plygem lines has fallen off in recent years in my observation. In addition, it is very bulky, with a big goofy chunk cobbled onto the meeting rail where they have the tilt/lock mechanism. Again, not the worst, but it is usually sold and marketed as a top line product which I would not say that it is. For the money there are better choices IMO.


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 Post subject: Re: Great Lakes Ecosmart Windows - Should I keep looking?
PostPosted: Tue Apr 07, 2015 6:18 pm 
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My thanks to masterext and fridge2020 for their feedback.

Unfortunately I'm still confounded. I was able to get a full replacement quote using Soft-Lite windows. I'm now down to two quotes. Both are for full replacement of 20 double hungs. One is at $14,900 and the other at $15,120... as follows:

$14,900 - Soft-Lite Classics
$15,120 - Great Lakes Ecosmart

The difference is only $220 but after close examination of both windows (in their respective show rooms) I can't help but feel the build quality of the Ecosmart is much better (more substantial) than the Classic. In regards to design (heft and "bells and whistles") the Soft-Lite Imperial LS appears much closer in quality to the Ecosmart. I've asked the Soft-Lite rep to give me two more quotes, one for the LS and one for the Pro. My fear is both quotes will be several thousand dollars more that the Classic putting their cost way over the cost of the Ecosmart line. Granted I've read plenty of negative stuff about Ply-gem but I've found almost nothing (no complaints) on their ecosmart model.

What I know about the Ecosmart:
They have a true welded sloped sill, one piece, with no weep holes.
The leg of the sill is welded creating an air and watertight seal.
The lift handles are die cast aluminum
U values on an their operable double hung with ecoMaxKR glass is 0.15 With standard Low E glass the value is 0.26
EcoSmart has a foam filled structural composite "skeleton" (optional on the Classic)

If the PlyGem windows really are a bad choice I need to know and to prevent making a stupid mistake. :(


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 Post subject: Re: Great Lakes Ecosmart Windows - Should I keep looking?
PostPosted: Tue Apr 07, 2015 6:57 pm 
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The Ecosmart certainly looks impressive on paper. I sold a lot of Great Lakes back in the early 2000's, but never had access to anything above their Plygem series. I used to do the SL Classic as a drop window to the Imperial LS. Never had any problems with it, however I would shy away from presenting it on larger openings due to it's narrow sash profile. I've never seen a ultra narrow sash extrusion vinyl product not have some horizontal smiling at the meeting rail area. The OKNA 500 and 800 seem to be about the best extrusions for staying true while minimizing thickness or bulk.

I think that you will like the LS and let's hope the dealer can work with his numbers.


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 Post subject: Re: Great Lakes Ecosmart Windows - Should I keep looking?
PostPosted: Wed Apr 08, 2015 1:42 am 
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Are the sills rotted through? Most sill rot is to the exterior sill nosing and does not mandate a full replacement.

Full tear outs are fine but I would like to know what the exterior cladding is and what and how the company will be flashing those units back.


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 Post subject: Re: Great Lakes Ecosmart Windows - Should I keep looking?
PostPosted: Wed Apr 08, 2015 4:38 pm 
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I'd get the price on the LS and go from there. IMO opinion it is a bit better than either of those.


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 Post subject: Re: Great Lakes Ecosmart Windows - Should I keep looking?
PostPosted: Tue Apr 14, 2015 11:38 pm 
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Windows on Washington wrote:
Are the sills rotted through? Most sill rot is to the exterior sill nosing and does not mandate a full replacement.

Full tear outs are fine but I would like to know what the exterior cladding is and what and how the company will be flashing those units back.

Sorry for the delayed response...had to leave town unexpectedly.

Of the 20 windows... 4 of the sills are rotted all the way through to the lumber of the rough opening. The rest of the sills are relatively solid. The exterior cladding of the entire house is a brick veneer. The four rotted sills occurred because the brick mason(s) failed to slope the sills on those four (laid the brick flat).. so the rain pools against the sill nosing.

My thought behind getting a full frame replacement (instead of installing a replacement window "inside" the existing jambs) was to yield as much glazing surface area as possible. My existing jambs (inside the ruff openings) are 3/4" thick. So... figuring twenty window openings of 32"x54" and leaving in the original 3/4" jambs, I forfeit well over 6 square feet of visible light.

Anyway, right or wrong, I was assuming the "best" window replacement would be to tear out "everything" to the rough opening, including all casing inside and out. Not that I want to spend a fortune... but I'm prepared to spend some extra money if it will yield the better end result.

HomeSealed wrote:
I'd get the price on the LS and go from there. IMO opinion it is a bit better than either of those.

A Soft-Lite rep was here the other day and measured all the windows. He's really is pushing for me to consider doing an insert and wrapping all the exterior casing with vinyl. He said they can do a full replacement but he doesn't see the need. I'm not sure if he's really interested in me understanding there is no need for a full replacement or if he's more interested in getting the job done quickly as possible so his installers can get in and out (he admits hes only done two or three full replacement jobs in the last 20 years)

He's going to provide a quote for the Soft-Lite LS. My only reservation on the LS is I keep reading about their BIG THICK frames and loss of visible light as a result and the rep wants to wrap my woodwork.

Delaware Mike wrote:
...[snip].. The OKNA 500 and 800 seem to be about the best extrusions for staying true while minimizing thickness or bulk.

I think that you will like the LS and let's hope the dealer can work with his numbers.

While I am still waiting for the LS quote, I was fortunate to locate a local Okna rep who and came out to work up an estimate. He agreed with me, based on the sill and exterior trim rot I'd be better of with a full replacement and forgo wrapping (even though he does windows both ways) Since I was pushing for a full replacement he said the Okna 500 would be better suited because the 800 is designed as more of an insert where the 500 has nailing fins and is better suited for a rough opening.

Next week... a rep for Sunrise Windows is coming to review and provide an estimate. Over the phone he didn't even blink when I said I wanted a full replacement window. He said they actually specialize in "full replacement installations". Hopefully Sunrise will be the last of my estimates. With the exception of the Great Lakes Ecosmart, (which I can't find much info on) the other three windows seems to be a quality product and very popular.

Field narrowed down to...
Okna 500 - Soft-lite Imperial LS - Sunrise Vanguard- Great Lakes Ecosmart


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 Post subject: Re: Great Lakes Ecosmart Windows - Should I keep looking?
PostPosted: Wed Apr 15, 2015 8:34 am 
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Given the brick exterior, what you may get back in terms of glass might be limited based on how they set the brick.

Replacing a few wood sills is no big deal as part of a larger window (insert) project.

You will loose a little bit of glass but if you stay with a nice narrow profile, the offset is really minimal.

I also don't care for full tear outs unless they are flanged and full new construction to be honest.


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 Post subject: Re: Great Lakes Ecosmart Windows - Should I keep looking?
PostPosted: Wed Apr 15, 2015 6:39 pm 
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Sunrise has some pretty neat installation videos on YouTube regarding their full frame tear outs. They have some neat options with a full PVC brick mold with traditional sill nosing. The pricing can start to approach wood/clad depending on the size and business model of the dealer so be prepared.


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 Post subject: Re: Great Lakes Ecosmart Windows - Should I keep looking?
PostPosted: Tue Apr 21, 2015 12:21 am 
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Windows on Washington wrote:
Given the brick exterior, what you may get back in terms of glass might be limited based on how they set the brick.

I also don't care for full tear outs unless they are flanged and full new construction to be honest.

On inspection (minor dismantle) it appears the installer whoever I pick will have access to the framing of the rough opening.

FYI: I met with the Okna rep last week and he offered several solutions (different price points) All were do do full tear out / replacements, new primed trim inside, new PVC brick mould outside.
1) The Okna 500 because it has a nailing flange.
2) The Okna 800... (which I prefer over the 500) Although no flange he said his installers, using a brake and some aluminum coil... can fashion a nailing flange that fits into the accessory channel of the 800 thus making a pseudo nailing fin.
3) Marvin Infinity - all fiberglass... and the most expensive option. I went to inspect one of his jobs in progress. They were doing a full frame replacements and installing Marvin Infinitys. The windows and install looked great but I'm struggling with the additional cost over and above the price of the Okna 800. (I'll only be in this house 10 year max.)

Delaware Mike wrote:
Sunrise has some pretty neat installation videos on YouTube regarding their full frame tear outs. They have some neat options with a full PVC brick mold with traditional sill nosing. The pricing can start to approach wood/clad depending on the size and business model of the dealer so be prepared.

Thanks for the tip. I watched several of the videos. I can only hope the installers I end up with are as talented. I'm meeting with the Sunrise rep this Friday. Because I have a quote on the Okna 800 I'm going to ask the Sunrise rep to quote the Restoration Series.
I'll also ask for a quote on the Vanuard line. On Saturday I'm meeting with the Soft-lite rep to go over the quote. He'll be pricing the Imperial LS and the Elements.

I understand each window manufacturer offers different pricing / quality levels and each has its pros and cons... but to play it safe I'm getting multiple quotes so I can attempt to do an apples to apples comparison based on window quality. As far as I can tell this is how I'm attempting to compare them (apples to apples) Look okay?

Okna's 500 Insul-Tec line - and - Soft-lite line Imperial LS
Okna's 800 Enviro-star line - and - Soft-lite Elements
Sunrise Vanguard series - and - Soft-lite Imperial LS
Sunrise Restorations Series - and - Okna 800 Enviro-star or the Soft-lite Elements


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 Post subject: Re: Great Lakes Ecosmart Windows - Should I keep looking?
PostPosted: Tue Apr 21, 2015 6:47 am 
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The 800 has a clip in flange option that works well. The coil will give you the drainage plane but it won't really help stabilize the window to the opening.

All good choices there. Are you sure you have the clearance for the flange with the brick exterior (i.e. ability to even get it in there)?


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 Post subject: Re: Great Lakes Ecosmart Windows - Should I keep looking?
PostPosted: Tue Apr 21, 2015 12:54 pm 
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+1. Use the snap in fin on the 800 Okna.

Regarding the other choices, it sounds like you have a pretty good understanding of which each equates to in competitive lines. That said, don't expect a dealer to be able to quote both the Vanguard and Restorations by Sunrise, or the Elements and LS by Softlite.
Both 800 and 500 are carried by many Okna dealers, but Softilte and Sunrise tend to set up dealers with one "Lead" window, and then a "drop" like the base Sunrise or Essentials. Both of the lines by Sunrise and SL are VERY similar, and have different names primarily so that they can set up multiple dealer networks that do not step on each other's toes.
While the SL products are great performers, personally I'd prefer to deal with Sunrise or Okna based on past experience.


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 Post subject: Re: Great Lakes Ecosmart Windows - Should I keep looking?
PostPosted: Thu Apr 23, 2015 6:42 pm 
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Windows on Washington wrote:
The 800 has a clip in flange option that works well. The coil will give you the drainage plane but it won't really help stabilize the window to the opening.

Hmmm... that so if the clip in flange won't help stabilize the window... what should I be expecting from the installer on installation as far as making sure the window is securely mounted? Also... I'm not exactly sure what Okna is referring to but their website says the Okna 800 series is "available in replacement "and" new construction. Do you think it has to do with the clip in flange option?
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Windows on Washington wrote:
All good choices there. Are you sure you have the clearance for the flange with the brick exterior (i.e. ability to even get it in there)?

I still plan on pulling down some of the brick molding to see how much access I have to the framing of the rough opening but haven't had a chance yet. When I do I'll take some photos.

HomeSealed wrote:
+1. Use the snap in fin on the 800 Okna.

Good to hear. As you may have seen... WoW mentioned the snap in fins won't offer much stability. I asked him if he add any suggestions on what I should expect the installer to do. Feel free to chime in if you have any insight.

HomeSealed wrote:
While the SL products are great performers, personally I'd prefer to deal with Sunrise or Okna based on past experience.

Point of interest... neither the Okna nor Sunrise dealer flinched when I told them I was comparing quotes for Sunrise, Okna, and Soft-Lite. Both agreed the competition I was considering were good windows. However when I mentioned them to the Soft-Lite dealer he said he would be wary of Okna for two reasons 1) because it's a relatively new company formed about 10 years ago, no longevity track record yet. 2) The controversy from a couple years back surrounding Okna and Window Wizards and the lack of foam issue. Personally I feel the Window Wizards foam issue is old news and is of no concern. Maybe he mentioned it because he sees Okna as his closest competition?


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 Post subject: Re: Great Lakes Ecosmart Windows - Should I keep looking?
PostPosted: Thu Apr 23, 2015 7:45 pm 
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I would hope that the OKNA dealer would have performed a few 800 installs as full frame flanged new construction projects with the snap in nailing fin. The fins come in like 14' lengths and we cut them to the desired length in the field. The window itself needs some weld flash to the exterior jambs and accessory grooves removed and I prefer a cordless multi master type tool. They get snapped into the a wet bed of high grade exterior sealant after deciding the method of figuring out the corners.

I personally still install the factory stainless replacement pan head screws to level and plumb the frame into the rough opening prior to my outside guy starting his nailing process. This method works well for the snap in fins that aren't as well engineered like the Sunrise fin. Sunrise offers welded integral fins too, but only with a built in j-channel. Soft-Lite offers both with and without built in j-channels on their welded fins. I've installed them all.

The flange/fin width isn't very wide so you might be fine with the masonry returns to allowable sheathing face provided the windows are sized correctly. Most of the replacement window companies that modify their windows for new construction have engineers that have never installed a window in their lifetime and are absolutely 100% clueless regarding any attempt to implement the flange and it's relationship to vinyl j-channel.


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